You lift, you run, you stretch, you eat clean — but there is one crucial element missing in your athletic regimen: massage. Lots of research has been conducted over the years on massage as it relates to athletics, with all investigations delineating a host of benefits, including relaxation, stress relief and increased range of motion. Of particular note to athletes is a study from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, which found that massage therapy reduces inflammation and promotes the growth of new mitochondria, improving endurance and performance by increasing the rate at which cells and muscles utilize oxygen and decreasing recovery time. Here are five kinds of massage every athlete should consider adding to his or her programming to get the best results possible.
This kind of massage uses long strokes, kneading and rolling, and moves in patterns similar to how your blood circulates in your body. This helps flush metabolic wastes from your muscles, assisting in recovery from training and injury while promoting relaxation and relief from mental and physical stress. For this treatment, you take off all (or most) of your clothing and lie on an elevated table facedown, flipping over halfway through. The therapist uses lotion or oil to prevent friction or pulling, and implements firm yet gentle pressure.
2. Deep Tissue
This is a rather vigorous, focused massage that targets the deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue to break up adhesions and release chronically tight muscles. The therapist uses his or her hands, forearms, elbows and fingertips to pinpoint the areas that need treatment, and uses moderate to very firm pressure. Deep tissue is often used to treat temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, sciatica, repetitive stress injuries (such as carpal tunnel or tennis elbow) and even fibromyalgia. For this massage, you are on a table and the therapist uses oil or lotion, but it is less about relaxation and more about healing.
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With this Chinese practice, the therapist targets the reflex areas in the feet thought to be connected to specific bodyparts and internal organs, helping stimulate endorphins, increase energy, eliminate toxins and boost metabolism. It also helps promote a calm and serene mental outlook by relaxing your central nervous system and improving neural pathways. Reflexology is very soothing and does not require you to remove anything besides your shoes and socks.
4. Sports Massage
According to the American Massage Therapy Association, sports massage can improve athletic performance, speed recovery and prevent/treat injuries. The therapist manipulates the muscles used most in your sport to break up scar tissue and improve mobility, while also helping dilate blood vessels to promote circulation and the removal of waste products to reduce soreness and tension. For a sports massage, you lie on an elevated table; the therapist combines several different massage techniques using a moderate to hard pressure and lotion or oil. Note: Sports massage might be uncomfortable and you might even be sore afterward.
This treatment is a blend of assisted yoga, acupressure, passive stretching and vigorous massage with the aim of reducing stress, promoting flexibility and improving range of motion. It is simultaneously energizing and relaxing, and has been shown to increase muscle capillary density, improve oxygen delivery and promote the release of lactic acid and endorphins. For a Thai massage you rest fully clothed on the floor and the therapist uses every part of his or her body (elbows, hands, knees, feet) to apply moderate to firm pressure.